Though not as compelling as The Armies, The Good Offices is a chilling little book worth attention. All of the events elapse in just one day and are focused on the hunchback named Tancredo, who lives as an indentured servant in a Catholic Church in Bogota, Columbia. From the opening line we learn that Tancredo, “has a terrible fear of being an animal,” yet as the narrative unfolds we witness that it is not only Tancredo who is subject to primal instincts. Perhaps his fears are a response to the behaviors of the people that make up his life.
The little church that is home to Tancredo is a pillar to the community, providing daily meals to the city’s prostitutes, orphans, single women, and the aged. However, the pillar’s weakness are revealed when the priest, Father Almida must find a substitute to perform the Thursday evening mass because Almida and the sacristan are tied to the mob and must pray tribute to the mob boss that finances the church’s elaborate expenses. Almida’s substitute, Father Matamoras is an alcoholic that replaces the holy water with anisette during the mass but transgresses this fault by blessing the churchgoer’s ears with his heavenly singing voice. All inhibitions are released in Matamoras’s presence and there are some devilishly good scenes that take place between Tancredo and his secret-lover (his child-hood friend and the sexton’s god-daughter) at the altar of the church. The presence of Matamoras causes all sorts of pandemonium to unfold, including a very macabre scene involving three nuns (each named Lilia) and a mischievous cat named after Father Almida.
I noted above that this is a little book, but it is just the right length to explore its themes of guilt hypocrisy, and redemption. Rosero’s translators have sprinkled the text with some lovely language that cause this little book to sparkle with conceit. Take for example this description of the three nuns that are so ensconced in each other’s hypocrisy that they seem to appear as one person that has forfeited her redemption to the drunken priest’s seductions, “To Tancredo they seemed like strangers. Other women; three demented old ladies five hundred years ago, alive, but reconstituted from scraps, cobwebs: talking corpses” (94). It is such language that gives this odd little story a chilling and fun background worthy of attention.